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20 March 2006

the simple joys of spring

asparagus, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Sometimes, the best pleasures are the simplest.

This morning, when I woke up, the sun had already risen. The sky was high and clear with light, washing everything clean with its clarity. After months of waking to darkness and struggling to school in lavender light at best, this morning opened my entire body wide. Yesterday, my dear friend Meri and I took a long walk around my neighborhood, marveling at the warmth of the air along our arms, which were bare against the sun for the first time in months. We heard someone running his lawnmower along the grass of his front yard, from blocks away. We both said, "It's spring."

I was punch-drunk on spring air.

It has been a long, dark winter. And as much as I tried to be a good Buddhist, and remind myself that there needs to be darkness and cold to make us appreciate the warmth and light in the world, I had to remind myself far too often for my taste. In other words? Winter just plain stunk this year. Rain, unceasing, cold down my back, the grey slatting light never enough to quell my hunger for sunlight (or even enough to take decent photographs most days), long mornings of darkness, more darkness at 3:30 in the afternoon, everyone logey or depressed, being surrounded by people at half-masts of energy and exuberance, nothing but root vegetables, an almost insatiable desire for baked goods, and all that damn rain -- this was the winter. Try as I might, I just don't like the winter as much as I do spring and summer.

But today, it's spring. Officially, spring. Boys are bouncing basketballs against the sidewalk as they walk home. People's chests are opening outward, like buds unfurling into flowers. The Seattle sky stays light in the west until nearly seven now. There are barbeques burning in the afternoons. People's faces have opened into easy smiles again. I've turned off the heaters. My entire body wants to say "ahhhhh.............."

Soon, the farmers' markets will rouse to life, in all my favorite neighborhoods in Seattle. On the weekends, I'll be able to buy mushrooms from local farmers. Baby peas will appear in my green salads. Tender artichokes, muscular arugula, and then the first batch of spring goat cheese -- they will all be here soon.

And strawberries.


On Friday afternoon, I walked around the Market (that's Pike Place to those of you who don't live in Seattle), grinning at being back. Somehow, during the winter, I never make it down to the Market. But in the spring and summer, I'm there three times a week, shopping there instead of the grocery store. On Friday afternoon, the warm air propelled me along, across the cobblestones, past the long tables filled with buckets of tulips, down the walkways crowded with the first tourists of the season to my favorite produce stand: Sosio's.

This highstall is buried deep in the Market, past the tentative steps of most of the tourists. The people who work there know how to slap paper bags against their thighs until they smack open. They also offer the first tastes of the season to anyone who walks by, then stops. Most of the time, I go there without a plan of what to cook that night. I simply say, "What's good right now? What will be good tonight?" Then, they let me nibble and sample, letting early spring plums ramble down my throat until I cannot stand it anymore. I need some.

On Friday, when I asked what was best that day, the friendly man serving me simply pointed to the strawberries. Full as pregnant pauses, more lurid red than anything in nature the past four months, and dotted with seeds that were destined to stick in my teeth, these strawberries looked splendid. I had to have some. I took a bite, expecting pale fruit and only a hint of strawberry taste. I nearly cried when an authentic sweetness came rushing to my tongue instead. With subtle warmth, a high clear taste, as rushing sweet as a first kiss at the end of the evening —— these were strawberries.

It's really spring.


asparagus II

Throbbing with spring green taste and the mellow sweetness of balsamic vinegar, these wonderful soft bites never fail to delight me. Recipes don't have to be complicated to satisfy, completely. This time of year, I roast asparagus in good olive oil and balsmic vinegar nearly every day. I nibble up the long spears, hot out of the oven, as an afternoon snack. If, somehow, I manage to restrain myself and save some for the next day, I slice them up for salads with slivers of parmesan cheese, or toss them in egg white scrambles with smoked salmon. Somehow, roasted asparagus is spring to me. This year, I'm going to gobble it all up.

one bunch of asparagus, of medium thickness
one tablespoon olive oil
one tablespoon balsamic vinegar
one teaspoon kosher salt
one teaspooon cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven to 450°. Set a large pot with an inch or two of water to boil.

Cut off the thick, woody ends of the asparagus and rinse each of the spears. When the water comes to full, roiling boil, throw the asparagus spears in the water. Let them cook for thirty to forty seconds, no more. (This is also called blanching.) Lift them out of the water.

Immediately toss the asparagus spears with the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. (And honestly, the measurements above are only a guide. Toss them all in to your taste. Don't overdo the balsamic vinegar, however. You want the depth and unexpected sweetness of it, but not the acrid tang of too much vinegar.) Place the coated spears on a baking sheet covered with tin foil. Place this in the hot oven on the top rack.

Cook the asparagus for about ten minutes, or until they are sizzling audibly and have become soft enough that a fork will go in easily. Don't overcook, or they will wither into themselves. Let them be a vivid spring green. Eat, immediately.


At 8:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love spring too. Unfortunately, it has been cold here for the past two days. Just out of curiosity--- why do you use kosher salt instead of regular salt?

At 9:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

heavenly! I am going to try this tonight. And you post about the market brought tears to *my* eyes - I know that feeling of joy with a flavour. I think we must like the same produce guy - he sold us some pears last fall that totally made my eyes roll back with delight. Hey, did you see any fiddleheads yet?!

At 12:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been reading for awhile now and I just had to say two things: first, you're an inspiration and a joy to read; and second, I went by Meri for most of my life and have never ever even heard of anyone else going by that name - yay for your friend!

At 7:36 PM, Blogger Ruth Daniels said...

It's been a while since I've taken my head out of my book writing and this is a place I always love visiting.

Glad I dropped by today...great memories of the one time I visited Pike's market - and I don't think there's another anywhere than can compare. At least I haven't found it yet.

As for roasted asparagus - my fave! And lucky you that strawberries have flavor!!

Thanks for sharing the beautiful words and the gorgeous photos.

At 9:00 PM, Blogger Molly said...

Absolutely beautiful, my friend. What an eloquent, evocative welcome to spring!

And of course, you know how I feel about the Market. And asparagus? Strawberries? Yes.

At 12:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, yes, yes, yes! You capture so beautifully the delight that comes with this change in the seasons.

In a few weeks I'll be starting a new job just one block from the market, and I'm utterly thrilled by the idea of being so close every day.

Gaile, someone at the Ballard farmers market on Sunday had fiddleheads, but I was too late for them. Next week...

At 9:34 AM, Blogger David said...

It's spring? I demand proof!

...uh, ok, you gave it.
Now send some our way, Shauna...

At 11:36 AM, Blogger Michelle said...

I'm so jealous of your sun up there, Shauna! Isn't Seattle supposed to rain more than Eugene?! We've still had nothing but rain and dark, cloudy days, but your post felt like a bit of sunshine today, thank you! Especially those strawberries, and roasted asparagus is one of my favorite dishes of all time! Our market starts on April 1, so I'm counting down the days...

At 6:38 AM, Blogger Shauna said...

Beastmomma --

I know. It went back to grey and rain here too. But those two days of warmth and sunshine enlivened us all. Kosher salt? I've been experimenting with different kinds of salts lately. I keep reaching for kosher these days. The crystals are larger than regular table salt, but not quite as large as coarse sea salt. It's an interesting texture, a slightly different taste. But any salt you like would do here.


What a perfect description of those pears! I love that stand. All the workers sweetly flirt with you and point out the best piece of fruit for that day. Ay, the Market. (Fiddleheads, no. But they must be coming soon.)

MIss V:

Good tip about the parmesan. I meant to, with this one, but I had forgotten to buy some. For shame! Maybe we'll bump into each other at Sosio's soon!


Well thank you, my dear. If I inspire joy in anyone, I'm thrilled. And Meri? Well, she deserves applause every day, for so much. She's actually a Merida, with the Spanish pronunciation of the r as a soft d. Few people can pronounce it. I'm sure that I'm still botching it after six years of knowing her. But she puts up with it.


So good to see you back! I understand being buried in a writing project, but I missed seeing you. You're doing great work over there at your site!


Thank you as always, my dear. How have we been doing all this cooking together and not been to the Market together yet? Tsk. Let's go soon.


One block from the Market? Ooh, I'm so jealous. I'd be there every day for lunch, if I were you.

And hey, you and other Seattle readers: maybe we should all meet up some time for coffee and conversations about food!


If I could spring your way, I would, my sir. But you're having such a fab time in London that I hesitate to think of you as deprived.


I think we're all counting down the days to April 1, somehow. So excited about full-time spring. I know you feel the same. It's time for a new season.

At 4:49 PM, Blogger Kate Croft said...

Mmm. My favorite.

I've been noticing beautiful asparagus everywhere in the markets lately! Hoorah!

At 5:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I use that same combination to marinate the asparagus (no blanching needed) and then barbecue it for one of the best things on earth.

As for Seattle, you remind me once again why I gave up and moved south. Rain day after day doesn't get me down, but losing daylight soon after 3:30pm on cloudy days was more than I thought a human should have to put up with.
(one of these days I'll try to remember my blogger id)

At 12:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shauna, happy spring wishes to you from San Francisco. We've had a cold wet winter here, too, and I can't be happier to see it's officially over. Roasting is one of my favorite ways to prepare asparagus, too.

At 11:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tried this recipe and adored it so much I made it twice more the same week. It is a shame that asparagus have a certain side effect, but I love them anyway. Thanks for sharing!

At 7:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was so inspired by your post about the roast asparagus that I bought a bunch of young, beautiful spears today. I have just finished my dinner with the asparagus as a large part of it... and I wish I had made more! It was delicious! Thank you so much -- I love your blog!


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